Oral contraceptives also referred to as birth control pills or even just “the pill” are one of the many forms of birth control available on the market. These pills contain two separate synthetic female hormones, progesterone and estrogen. The way these pills work is that they stop a woman from ovulating, making pregnancy impossible. They also cause other physiological changes that are related to the reproductive process such as a thickening in the mucous of the cervix and significant thinning of the lining on the uterus. While these pills are very well trusted in terms of preventing pregnancy, they have been given a bit of a bad rap in terms of side effects over the years. Specifically, weight gain and fluid retention seem to be at the top of the list of side effects that women complain most about.
How Much Weight Gain Can a Woman on the Pill Expect?
There are actually a couple of different kinds of birth control pills. There are those that have much higher levels of estrogen and these are the ones that are almost always blamed for the most weight gain. Women who take the higher estrogen pills often report weight gain of about 5 and a half pounds during the first year. The other type of pill has a much lower level of estrogen and some studies have suggested that with these there is either no change in weight whatsoever or even a slight loss of weight. The reality is that every woman is different and there is no set amount of weight that will be gained during the time they are using oral contraceptives but if a woman using any birth control pill starts to note an unusual amount of weight gain in a short period of time, the best thing to do would be to contact the doctor right away and see if there is a better alternative.
Do Birth Control Pills Cause Fluid Retention?
Just as high doses of estrogen may lead to weight gain, there is also a good possibility that a bit of fluid retention could be seen with them as well. This is especially true if we are talking about a pill that has at least 50 mcgm or higher of estrogen. This is because higher doses of estrogen can stimulate the kidneys to produce rennin-angiotensin, which contributes to salt and water retention. Some research suggests that birth control pills which have lower than 20 mcgm of estrogen can actually lead to weight loss while pills that have about 30 mcgm will cause no change at all in weight. The bottom line is that the more estrogen there is in the pill, the more likely the chances of weight gain and fluid retention are.
Can Birth Control Pills Increase Your Desire to Eat?
Over the past several decades there have been a lot of different studies conducted on birth control pills in relation to undesirable side effects such as weight gain and increase in appetite. One thing has always been clear. Some women seem to have a problem with insulin resistance when taking high doses of estrogen and some do not. The studies indicate that the insulin resistance is the contributing factor is whether or not a woman will actually develop an increase in her appetite. This is why scientists have been so baffled by the variance when it comes to hundreds of women and the side effects or lack thereof that they may experience. One key thing that women who gain weight while taking birth control pills is the link between abnormal glucose metabolism and weight gain. The women who do not metabolize glucose properly are the ones who seem to be at a greater risk. There are tests which can be performed to find out how well a person is actually metabolizing glucose. However, the best rule of thumb for any woman taking the pill is that she should never gain more than about 5% of her total body weight within a year.
In conclusion, there does not seem to be a major or significant risk of weight gain associated with birth control pills. There may however be a higher risk of fluid retention which could make some women feel that they are gaining weight. This is mostly carried in the hips, breasts and thighs. In addition, taking pills with high doses of estrogen can cause the fat cells to expand, not necessarily multiply though. There are even some cases in which some women may build a bit more muscle while taking birth control pills. This is largely due to the fact that there does seem to be a bit of a male hormonal effect that the pill could have on certain women who take it. Of course building muscle will make you weight a bit more and could lead some women to believe they are gaining fat when in fact they are not.